30 – THE BARBARA ALLEN SONG

This week I have been working on my new book and, as usual, research is an important part of this work. The novel entitled “Remembrance Man” is about the cholera epidemic in 1832. Most of us don’t remember the great pandemics of previous centuries and how awful they were. For those of you living in Quebec, the ‘blue death’ as it was called killed some 3,000 people during the summer of 1832 in Quebec City. The population at the time was only about 20,000 people so 15% of the population fell victim to cholera in a very short period from June to September. A lot of them were immigrants arriving by the boatload (50,000 people arrived in the city that summer). Imagine the fear and the housing chaos.

A moving song

I recently discovered this wonderful song interpreted by Joan Baez entitled “Barbara Allen”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqHJ4V893e0

“Barbara Allen” is a traditional Scottish ballad that later travelled to America where it became a popular folk song. It is referred to in the diary of Samuel Pepys in 1666 and is by far the most widely collected song in the English language with hundreds of versions sung over the years. The lyrics are as follows:

“Twas in the merry month of May
When green buds all were swelling,
Sweet William on his death bed lay
For love of Barbara Allen.

He sent his servant to the town
To the place where she was dwelling,
Saying you must come, to my master dear
If your name be Barbara Allen.

So slowly, slowly she got up
And slowly she drew nigh him,
And the only words to him did say
Young man I think you’re dying.

He turned his face unto the wall
And death was in him welling,
Goodbye, goodbye, to my friends all
Be good to Barbara Allen.

When he was dead and laid in grave
She heard the death bells knelling
And every stroke to her did say
Hard hearted Barbara Allen.

Oh mother, oh mother, go dig my grave
Make it both long and narrow,
Sweet William died of love for me
And I will die of sorrow.

And father, oh father, go dig my grave
Make it both long and narrow,
Sweet William died on yesterday
And I will die tomorrow.

Barbara Allen was buried in the old churchyard
Sweet William was buried beside her,
Out of sweet William’s heart, there grew a rose
Out of Barbara Allen’s a briar.

They grew and grew in the old churchyard
Till they could grow no higher
At the end they formed, a true lover’s knot
And the rose grew round the briar.”

I was moved by this song as I am sure you will be too. Imagine two young people cut down by the ‘black death’ in the 17th century or by some other awful scourge.

 

Have a nice week.

 

29 – THE BREXIT DITHER

During the parliamentary shenanigans in the UK this week, I was thinking about how Britain has always had a foothold in Europe and Europe in Britain. Brexit won’t change much of anything.

Remember the ‘Pale of Calais’ back in the fourteenth century. Calais and the surrounding region were controlled by British kings following the Battle of Crecy in 1346. Pale is an old English term meaning area or jurisdiction. So the Pale of Calais region was in English hands from 1346 until the Siege of Calais 1558 during the reign of Mary I (Mary Tudor or Bloody Mary as she was called by Protestant opponents). In England there was shock and disbelief at the loss of territory in Continental Europe. It is believed that Mary on her deathbed told her family: “When I am dead and opened, you shall find Calais lying in my heart.”

Tell that to Boris Johnson now in the final throes of Brexit. Maybe he will find Calais ‘lying in his heart’ too. Teaching English to Quebec francophones has helped me appreciate the origin of certain words in the English language. For instance, the word ‘claret’ which in Britain designates a light Bordeaux red wine comes from an old French word ‘clairet’. The word reminds us that British monarchs controlled a rather large part of France from 1158 to 1453. It all started with the marriage of Henry II of England and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine in 1152. With Henry’s accession to the throne two years later, the Duchy of Aquitaine became the property of the English crown. Aquitaine was a huge piece of real estate stretching from the Loire to the Pyrenees. It was ruled from Poitiers and included the Duchy of Gascony until it shrank back to the Garonne with its capital in Bordeaux.

So back in the 12th century, the English starting consuming large quantities of Bordeaux wine called claret and the French in Aquitaine fell in love with English trade goods. The Gascons or residents of Aquitaine remained fiercely faithful to the kings of England and didn’t think of themselves as French at all. Many Gascons saw no benefit in French rule and thought it advantageous to be governed by a distant lord who didn’t interfere in their affairs. After 1451, when the French king Charles VII seized the Duchy, the Gascons with the support of an English expeditionary force rebelled against French rule declaring allegiance to the English king.

The English presence in Bordeaux lasted some 300 years while their occupation of Calais and its region another 200 years. No wonder England and France are so closely knit. Most of us know about Norman rule of Britain from 1066 on but few of us remember those lost years in Gascony. While French bureaucrats were counting cows and chickens in the muddy English countryside for the Domesday book for nigh on one hundred years, British nobility was cavorting about their estates totally inebriated from all that imported French wine for some three centuries. No wonder the British love the French.

Pass the claret as they say in the UK.

 

Gascony, France

28 – NEW WORK IN 2020

This year I will be finishing up my new novel Remembrance Man by the end of January and will be working on a new script financed by the Canadian Media Fund. Thank you very much. It is not often I get paid to write.

In this case the script is entitled: Johnny Reb in Montreal. It tells the story of thirteen Confederate soldiers who go on trial in a Montreal courtroom in 1864, facing charges ranging from robbery and arson to homicide and threaten plans for the new Dominion of Canada. Some of you may have heard of the St. Alban’s attack. This is the story of the attack and the courtroom drama. I am a fast writer and I should complete a first draft sometime around next summer.

I am presently completing my book tour presentation for “Shipwrecked Lives” and will be in Ottawa on Oct. 16 before the Canadian Nordic Society. Working on the presentation, it is amazing how technology has been extremely useful with some exception in protecting us from collisions at sea. You may remember the US Navy ships, the SS Fitzgerald and the SS McCain, who trashed their ships in maritime accidents in 2017 that could have been avoided.

USS Fitzgerald wreck

The American 7th fleet should really be called the ‘disaster fleet’ due to the incompetence and lack of training of their officers and technicians. The ships are under-manned and the training are lacking on these hugely expensive vessels. Trump threatened an attack on North Korea back in 2017, but I doubt the 7th fleet would have been very useful,  a bit like sending the Keystone Cops to attack a highly militarized enemy.

I am back from the FIN Partners meetings in Halifax last week where I met a lot of producers and broadcasters interested in my project “An Absolute Secret.” Two solid days of meetings and buzz sessions. The co-production is advancing slowly, but it looks like it will be a three way co-pro with foreign partners.

Have a nice week.

27 – AN ELABORATE HOAX

For some twenty years I believed the story about Sarner’s disease which appeared in the CBC’s Ideas program back in April 1996. I was particularly interested in the cholera epidemic of 1832 which is the subject of my fourth novel in preparation. Well, the April 1996 program about “the lying down” or township cholera” where people would appear to die from this strange type of cholera and then suddenly come back to life was a complete hoax. It contained interviews with medical specialists, was animated by host Lister Sinclair and written by journalist Barbara Nichols. Furthermore, the same information appeared in an article in the Globe and Mail not long after the radio .

https://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/april-fools-day-faux-disease-fools-a-few

Remember that the Ideas program was not some kind of comedy special, but a wonderful reflective radio program about important issues broadcast at 9 pm in the evening on CBC radio. The show touched on the arts, sciences, social issues, etc. and was an inspiration for ordinary Canadians who wanted to feed their craving for knowledge in all its forms. Today it is hosted by Paul Kennedy and often features the Massey Lectures in collaboration with the University of Toronto and the House of Anansi Press.

So I was quite shocked recently when I googled “Sarner’s disease” and saw the CBC archives announcement that the show had been a joke – an April 1 hoax. A lot of Canadians were victims of this hoax. I believed the story for some twenty years and I even wrote a feature film drama based on the idea that there might be some truth in it. The screenplay was financed by Telefilm Canada, the SODEC and others. Of course, my script only touched on certain elements in the Ideas program, but still it was shocking to feel abused by this hoax for so long.

Over the years when I would try to research the elements in the story, there seemed to be nothing on the web to support it. This just goes to show how long fake news stories can hang around, perpetuating wrong ideas and why it is important for our national broadcaster to avoid putting out fake news like this. It took the CBC over twenty to admit that it was in the fake news business.

In my new novel based on my original script entitled “Remembrance Man”, I have excised most of the elements in the fake Ideas program. The 1832 cholera epidemic is an extraordinary story in itself and it doesn’t need exaggeration and misrepresentation to make it interesting. I have kept the title, however, which refers to the men from Detroit who were hired to watch over the graves of the recently buried to reassure their families that their loved ones had stayed peacefully dead or rescue those who might come back to life. In the 19th century people feared being buried alive.

Fake news is everywhere of course. In documentary films, supposedly based on hard facts, writers and directors add their own grain of salt and bend the truth. They build stories by taking interviews out of context and employ them to shock the public. The truth is often not very exciting and of little interest to journalists who are looking for the big scoop. The CBC, in particular, has always been a left leaning broadcaster and its information services have been bending the truth for as long as anyone can remember. And they are not alone.

It is always going to be a tough job getting to the real facts behind most stories with so much exaggeration and misleading information out there. I write historical novels, so I do like to base the stories on real facts and not fake news.

Have a nice week.

26 – THE NORWEGIAN AMERICAN JOURNAL BOOK REVIEW

You may have noticed the book review by Rosalie Grosch about “Shipwrecked Lives” which was published recently in the Norwegian American journal (www.norwegianamerican.com). Here it is a quote from her:

From the very first lines, Kinsey skillfully crafts his novel. We are drawn into the lives of the individuals on the Empress, passengers confused and frightened when loud blasts of the ship’s whistle sound and the ship begins to list, then rapidly sink. He weaves the story between the disaster itself and what follows with the survivors in a courtroom as lawyers and witnesses try to unravel the cause of the collision… Kinsey has written a historical novel that is impossible to put down. I found that the transitions from survivor story to courtroom events held my interest from start to finish.

I was recently invited by the Canadian Nordic Society in Ottawa to give a lecture on “Shipwrecked Lives” and do a book signing in the fall. This year I have decided to be more active promoting my books and am putting together several book tours for “An Absolute Secret” and “Shipwrecked Lives”. I am planning on doing author events in libraries, schools and book shops across Quebec and in Ontario and New England starting in the fall.

Since I am involved in historical fiction, readers are interested in the real events and want to learn more about them. So a large part of my lectures are devoted to telling the true story behind the novel and less about the writer’s experience of putting everything on paper.

I hope you all have a pleasant week. Here’s a picture of yours truly and my little granddaughter Elisabeth.

25 – HARRY HOPKINS

I came across another interesting historical snippet recently while revising my television scripts for “An Absolute Secret”. Does anyone remember Harry Hopkins, the adviser to President Roosevelt during the war years? The man who spent 3 ½ years living in the White House and travelling to Moscow and London to evaluate the fighting spirit of the Allies. In January 1941 at the darkest moment of Britain’s war effort – remember the Blitz went on until May 1941 – Roosevelt sent Hopkins to London to assess Britain’s determination to resist attack by the Nazis. Churchill escorted Hopkins all over the UK. Before Hopkins returned to the US, he proposed a toast to his hosts at a hotel in Glasgow:

“I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return. Well, I am going to quote to you one verse from the Book of Ruth … ‘Whither thou goest, I will go and where thou lodgest, I will lodge, thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’”

Harry Hopkins and Franklin Roosevelt

What an amazing gesture of solidarity with the British people. We talk today about the special relationship between Britain and America, well this unforgettable tribute and gesture of friendship by Hopkins says it all.
Hopkins went on to administer the American Lend-Lease program which gave or loaned warships, warplanes and weapons in exchange for leases on army and naval bases in Allied territory. The $50 billion program supplied Britain, the USSR, the Free French, China, and other Allies with the necessary equipment to wage war against the Nazis. But it wasn’t a one-way street, Britain supplied the US with its design of the cavity magnetron which allowed scientists to build extremely efficient radar sets that could spot enemy planes, ships and even submarine periscopes from miles away in the dark. Without this technology American lives would have been lost on planes and ships so it was obviously worth the investment.
Hopkins was Roosevelt’s eyes and ears during those war years, and he had a major voice in policy. He travelled to Moscow in July 1941 at the outbreak of the German invasion of the USSR, Newfoundland, Cairo, Tehran, Casablanca and Yalta.
I hope you all have a pleasant week.

24 – CO-PRODUCTION IN THE MAKING

I am working on the book trailer for “Shipwrecked Lives” so I will be ready to do a promotional pitch in early January. I have had to delay a lot of things in the fall due to illness and the need to shop my previous novel “An Absolute Secret” to television producers.

I’ve now completed a major revision of my screenplay for “An Absolute Secret” which has gone from six one-hour episodes to nine one-hour episodes. The spy thriller is attracting a good deal of interest in the Canadian production community. I wrote the novel based on my original script which was around 250 pages. The novel was some 373 pages so I had to add several characters and a lot of action. The screenplay is now 393 pages, approx. 9 x 44 pages (one minute of screen time per page). Six episodes is always a bit short for broadcasters who often prefer eight or more episodes in the first season, so going to nine episodes is a good move.

The mini-series will be a John le Carré style spy thriller set in wartime Stockholm with its centuries-old architecture. The series is perfect for an international coproduction with potential partners in Sweden, Finland, the UK/Ireland, and Canada. It is very rare to find a story that works this well for everyone.

I expect the budget will be around C$27 million or C$3 million per episode so it is a big adventure for me as a writer. The plan is to find a big name Swedish director to help make the broadcast presales in Sweden and Finland. Already Beta in Germany and E1 have shown interest in the series as potential distributors.

The Canadian minority production partner will probably shoot  the German concentration camp scenes that appear in the ‘White Buses’ adventure portion of the script. A large portion of these scenes could be shot in a large studio in Toronto or Montreal. The Swedish Red Cross under Folke Bernadotte organized the release of Scandinavian prisoners from the camps in the last few months of the war. Of course, the Stockholm scenes (interiors and exteriors) will be shot in Sweden and some of the exterior scenes in Finland.

Have you heard of Folke Bernadotte before? Feel free to answer in the comments!

Scandinavian dramas are hot today in Europe and command large budgets and Canada is well known for its capacity to package co-pros. So hopefully this project will soon be up and running.

23 – FILMMAKING

Some good news. The Norwegian-American newspaper is going to do a book review on Shipwrecked Lives which should appear shortly and Goodreads is doing a giveway for all you people living south of the border, but you have to sign up for it before November 9, 2018.

This week I thought I would tell you a little bit about my career in filmmaking. I fell in love with making moving pictures, but I was never much of a cinephile. I have always preferred to read the book rather than see the movie. I used to go to the Cannes Film market in May each year to try to drum up some business for the company, but I never saw a single film at the festival, although I had ample opportunity. Colleagues of mine would rush off after meetings to see new films, but I just couldn’t be bothered.

I suspected that a lot of the films there were pretty awful and would not be to my taste. The French do festivals very well, don’t get me wrong, but what is a film festival but a huge sales pitch. The red carpet, the euphoric comments from fans, the whole shebang seemed to be so phoney.

Remember some of the really bad films that got the Palme d’Or over the years. The arts are a lot like this: full of hot air and glamour, but with very little substance. Most of the time you are going to find that the movies headlined at festivals don’t live up to their reputations. What some journalist finds tantalizing, most of us are going to think is absolute shit.

Remember that Cannes is not an equal opportunity film festival. You don’t get into Cannes without influence. English language films are at a major disadvantage unless they have Hollywood stars or name directors. French-language films from Quebec do very well, but they have always had a huge advantage over Canadian English-language productions because they are not in direct competition with US and British films. So a first timer with a French-language film can often slip through the francophone competition (France, Switzerland and Belgium) and get into the Cannes Festival! Not so for English-language films, however, well acted and competently directed. The same rule applies to a lot of other festivals.

I learned this the hard way with a movie entitled “Women Without Wings”. We presented the film at Cannes one year with a market screening, but we got little or no interest from journalists and distributors. Of course, they don’t tell you this in film school. It doesn’t matter how good your movie is, it won’t fly in international markets without marquee value (name actors, established directors, distribution, etc.) I have often been to film markets and conferences where successful distributors talk about the “waterfall”, meaning the revenue stream, to crowds of independent filmmakers who will probably never see a revenue stream in their life. Most independent films are made with credit cards, borrowed or otherwise, and the only public for these films are family members and friends. The film industry is full of dreamers without the slightest hope of ever being successful or making any money.

My fascination with cinema started in the 1970s. I loved the creative and technical aspects of cinema where the director re-creates reality with the camera and through editing. I loved operating film cameras, lighting sets, and editing films. Making movies was great fun, but watching movies was never a passion for me. The shooting, the editing, the sound mixing, the music compositions, etc. I haven’t seen a movie in a cinema for years. I am not a good public for movies. I see too many mistakes due to incompetent directors, writers and even cameramen.

Over my career, I directed 5 feature films, photographed and lighted 8 feature films, hundreds of documentaries and sponsored films, and wrote and edited numerous scripts before writing three historical novels. Maybe in writing novels, I have found some real satisfaction after so many years. Although I feared that I wouldn’t be able to complete a novel, I have learned how to do a competent job at it. It really is all about writing and re-writing. It’s a long slog and it seems to take forever, but there is a good deal of pleasure in discovering new facets to a story during the writing process. So yes, I enjoy the writing and, of course, it doesn’t depend on a crew of twenty people and more, and in this case time is often more important than money.

What lessons did you learn from your respective careers?

I hope you all have a pleasant week.

 

22 – FACTS

A lot of you are probably wondering whether last week’s rant was a sign that yours truly was losing it. Well, as a writer of historical fiction, I think that writers owe it to their readers to provide some reference as to the veracity of the information he or she is providing even if it is a fictional work. I mix true stories based on facts that appear in history books with plausible fictional characters and events. I stick as close to the facts as possible.

Témoignage du capitaine G. H. Kendall lors de la commission d’enquête sur le naufrage – Source : Archives nationales du Canada

And when I say that my new novel Shipwrecked Lives is based on 2,000 pages of testimony given before the Commission of Inquiry into the sinking of the Empress of Ireland passenger liner in the St. Lawrence River on May 29, 1914, I am serious. The testimony before the court in my novel is almost word for word. I don’t invent testimony when I have the real thing before me. By saying this in the foreword to a book, you are defining the limits of invention within the work. It is important because the reader can believe that the novel is really based on a true story.

Shipwrecked Lives is a fascinating historical novel for Canada and Quebec putting the reader on the waterfront in the Port of Quebec in the summer of 1914. The harbour was filled with boats of all kinds: schooners, goélettes, coastal steamers, tenders, barges, ferries, shallow-draft lighters and harbour runabouts. Calèches and hansom cabs were the favoured method of transport in town. Newspaper reporters from around the world gathered in the town to report the latest details emerging from the Commission of Inquiry.

One of the most amazing scenes in Shipwrecked Lives was the opening of the Purser’s safe in the lobby of the Bank of Montreal on rue St-Pierre in Quebec City. The CPR had paid the salvage company to remove the safe from the wreck and haul it to Quebec City to be opened under controlled circumstances so no false claims could be made to fortunes lost on the ship (which was the case of the Titanic disaster). This was a huge job and the divers had to cut a hole in the ship’s side and bring out a safe the size of a phone booth encased in steel.  I won’t tell you any more, but a locksmith opened the safe in front of the press in the lobby of the bank and the shock was total.

The novel will be out on Amazon by the end of July.

I hope you all have a pleasant week.

21 – NEW COVER

The design of the new cover for my novel is out. It takes time to design a cover and book covers are important. We decided to avoid putting the ship on the front page because there are already a lot of books about the Empress of Ireland disaster and this story is centered on the aftermath of the sinking.

 

 

 


Anyway I wanted this week to discuss a rather sensitive point. I recently started reading a novel by Hanya Yanagihara: “The People in the Trees”. The Wall Street journal calls it “a standout novel…thrilling.” “Fascinating and multilayered”, says the Boston Globe. “Exhaustingly inventive”, says the New York Times Book Review.

My take after reading about half of the book is that it is “a total fraud, abusive of readers’ trust, and certainly exhausting.”  It is not often that I really hate a work of fiction, but the author of this novel is totally dishonest. This is not in any way a true story, although everything about it tries to convince you it is.

The person of the renowned immunologist Dr Abraham Norton Perina is totally fictional. His abuse of children is fictional. I read that the character is in part inspired by Daniel Carleton Gajdusek who was revered in the scientific community before being accused of child molestation.

So everything about this story is fictional. There is no kernel of truth to any of it. The people he discovers on the Micronesian island are fictional. The words spoken by the islanders are invented even though the author provides translations in the absurd footnotes to the novel.

It is not often you will see footnotes in a Michael Connelly or John Grisham novel. Footnotes are used in non-fiction to provide additional information for the reader. Why not add a bibliography while you are at it with a fictional list of reference works. It’s totally nuts to put footnotes in a novel.

The author puts footnotes throughout the novel with references to people who don’t exist with detailed description of their lives. There is even an epilogue at the end about the fictional characters in the novel. It’s astounding to see such a flagrant use of non-fictional story telling devices in an entirely fictional novel.

After about ten footnotes about Dr. Perina’s fake colleagues and family members, I gave up. The book no longer had any credibility either as fiction or non-fiction. It was a bit like reading a Walmart flyer and just about as interesting.

Good novelists don’t rattle on about incidental events and characters who have no bearing on the fictional story that one intends to tell. It simply kills reader interest. The author would have better succeeded by telling a story based partially on fact, not by inventing some kind of “Jurassic Park” tale.

Furthermore the cover photograph of the book looks like a real photograph, but who is the man in photograph. Is it Dr. Perina or some budding artist in NYC? How does a respected publisher like Doubleday publish crap like this? Am I the only one out there who was ticked off by this fake news novel.

A lot of the comments from readers show that they believed Dr Norton was a real person so the author’s attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of readers was successful, but fakery like this doesn’t make a work of art.

Don’t established publishers have any set of values today. Don’t they spend any time editing their books. The author of “The People in the Trees” could have succeeded in producing a decent novel, if she had cut a hundred pages or more, and the footnotes and references to incidental characters. Authors need to respect their readers and obviously this first timer hasn’t got a clue as to what that means.

Sorry for my weekly rant, but some things need to be said. Next week we’ll talk about my extraordinary new “standout” novel which is “fascinating and multilayered” and “exhaustingly inventive”. Sounds good, doesn’t it.

And with this I wish you all a very pleasant week.